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How Stranger Things' SFX Artists Created Vecna

Stranger Things makeup designer and visual effects artist Barrie Gower breaks down the extensive work that went into bringing season 4's gruesome villain Vecna to the screen. Season 4 Volume 1 of Stranger Things is currently available and streaming on Netflix; Season 4 Volume 2 of Stranger Things releases July 1.

Released on 06/17/2022


He was covered in K-Y jelly and lube

and a kind of wet looking gel.

So we gave Vecna this kind of glossy sort of look every day.

That was our last part of the application process.

Our last 10, 15 minutes would be the four of us

literally getting this product all over him

to make him look really glossy.

And occasionally he'd meet producers

or some of the other cast members, they'd come up,

shake his hand and just regret it immediately

because they were covered in slime.

It's time for your suffering

to end.

Hi, I'm Barrie Gower and I'm gonna break down

how we created the creature prosthetics

for Stranger Things, season four.

We were approached by the Duffer brothers.

They were after their own iconic villain

for this season and they wanted him to be very practical.

And I think they'd seen our work

with the Night King on game of Thrones.

And they'd seen our work with the radiation burns

on HBO's Chernobyl.

They said to us, We want our own iconic villain.

We need our Stranger Things version of the Night King.

Well, why don't we just approach the guys

who did the Night King?

We were given various concept art designs

by concept artist, Michael Mayer,

who did beautiful, incredible designs

for the Vecna character.

We were sent those designs

and then we took a full body life cast

of the actor, Jamie Campbell Bower.

From that point, we had quite a large extensive build

to actually create the character which we started

with this full body life cast made outta plaster of Paris.

When you do any prosthetic makeup which involves appliances

overlapping onto other appliances,

there's a process called floating.

The plaster cast of Jamie's body,

we painted completely all over with a soap product first

and let that dry.

And then we sculpted Vecna over the top

in this wax modeling clay.

And then we needed to separate the sculpture

into many different parts like a jigsaw puzzle

and mold them separately.

But to separate them, you need to submerge the whole body

under water.

So the water sinks into the plaster Paris

and reactivates the soap.

So the plasticine actually floats off the surface

of the plaster of Paris.

This is the biggest thing we've ever tried to float

a sculpt off in our workshop.

So we bought this huge paddling pool, put it in our workshop

and it took a day to fill with water.

And we'd built this scaffold pipes kind of frame

that we could screw into the back of Jamie's body

and submerge him overnight for the soap to reactivate.

We just drilled all these holes into his back

so all the water can basically trickle out the body

and we'll stand him back up, get some little tools

and start separating the sculpture down

into many, many different pieces, make molds of those pieces

and inject them with different materials

such as silicone foam latex.

It was about 24 or 25 overlapping prosthetics

which created the entire character of Vecna.

We decided to go down the approach

of doing a full body makeup as opposed to a a pullover suit

because the character was going to be...

It was gonna have a lot of very intense,

strenuous kind of movements in the show.

He was gonna be interacting with a lot of the main cast

and we wanted to avoid any kind of buckling

that you usually get with a rubber suit.

[eerie music playing]

We wanted to adhere and glue all the appliances

to the actor's skin, which in the end ended up

with a process which started off

at about eight and a half hours

for the whole application process.

Vecna's prosthetics,

they're made of this combination of two different materials.

We use a Silicon medical gel

which is encapsulated between a vinyl skin

and it's incredibly soft and you can change the density

of the prosthetic to make it firmer or softer.

So we made the prosthetic very soft.

So when everything's adhered to Jamie's skin,

it moves very well, it doesn't buckle.

We have a lot of stretch

and it kind of contracts very easily.

But due to that actual material, it's quite weighty as well.

Probably looking at about 10 to 15 kilos

just in the head and shoulders.

Then he had a full chest appliance, a full back appliance.

The larger, heavier appliances were his left arm

which was basically a large sleeve.

And then a foam latex glove

that went over his mechanical, left hand.

He had dentures which went over his own teeth

which were like clear vac-form plastic sort of shells

which were artwork so his teeth looked rotten and blackened.

And he had contact lenses as well,

full scleral contact lenses.

So we really put him through the mill.

There wasn't anything else we could get on Jamie.

Biggest challenges, really,

were to obviously make sure he could talk, he could eat,

he could see, he could hear.

He has got ear holes through the prosthetic there.

We had to make sure obviously that Vecna

would be able to go to the bathroom during the day as well.

So we devised a kind of a system

which went under his nether regions

that we could pop open and he could go to the loo.

And obviously we wouldn't go with him.

There are all these things

you need to take into consideration

that you've got a human under there at the end of the day

and they still need to eat, still need to chat.

There's a lot of contributing factors

that you have to take into consideration

when you're doing a full-body makeup.

But it got to the point that not only were our team

like a well old machine,

but Jamie knew exactly where his arm needed to be

at a certain time or turn his head

or, Oh, I'm standing now and now I'm lying down.

For Jamie, in particular, he did go into a zen-like mode.

We would start off with music every day

and because of the character,

I think Jamie liked to listen to some quite aggressive,

quite intense death metal.

And it would be quite hardcore.

There would definitely be a part during the process

where he would become Vecna.

He was kind of murmuring things under his breath.

And you could tell he was definitely getting into

the Vecna zone.

I have killed everyone...

And it was just really interesting

because he'd be sitting there very still.

Moving his hand around, we'd be airbrushing,

moving around him, not really making much conversation.

He would be [grunts].

Basey sort of voice.

And then an AD would step on the trailer

and, Jamie, is there anything I can get you?

Oh yeah, could I get a coffee with whatever?

And he'd suddenly sort of shift back into Jamie again

and we'd realize that we've got Jamie in the makeup chair.

[eerie music playing]

It was very clear from day one that we would be working

very closely with the VFX team.

And there would be some augmentation to the finish

of Vecna's look.

Most notably, it was the moving vines all over his body.

So even though they took our physical makeup itself,

they used software and animation

to give all the vines a slight movement

and everything sort of slithered all over his body.

And they also removed Jamie's nose as well.

On each application day, we had a black nose on Jamie

with some little white marking dots

so VFX could remove that in post.

But in the end we ended up with a character

which was about 90% practical.

[eerie roaring sound]

I think one of the most challenging things

with the design was creating his large left hand

with his extended fingers.

So this was something that the production

were quite keen to us to achieve practically for the shoot.

So we created, it was a mechanical left hand

with finger extensions,

which was covered in a foam latex prosthetic

that our actor, Jamie wore.

It was sculpted by Patt Foad and Duncan Jarman.

And Pat was responsible for Vecna's left hand

which the original design from Michael Mayer had Vecna

with really extended, long fingers on the left hand.

The whole idea of Vecna killing his victims

by using his hand and sort of penetrating their skulls

and sucking their brains out as such.

We were doing tests back at the workshop in the UK

where we were using crew members and wearing the hand

and trying to show the Duffers,

Oh, this is how it could potentially work.

They looked incredible when he was moving them

but they almost became a little comical

when he was trying to sort of penetrate some fingers

into the head.

So we actually reduced the length of the fingers.

Probably by about four to six inches.

Jamie came over to the UK, came to our studio

and we had a complete set of appliances

but nothing was pre-painted, it was all bare.

But he had the long finger extensions at this time.

We'd been wearing it ourselves in the workshop

and just making sure that the mechanics work correctly

and we could only wear it for about five minutes or so.

And we were finding the strain on our fingers,

it was making our hands ache so much

by the time he took the glove off,

you could hardly move your hand because you had cramps.

So we were thinking,

This is gonna be really interesting with Jamie.

Is this gonna work?

He's gonna be potentially be wearing this

for hours at end on a shoot day.

And he came in, he did the test

and he wore this hand for like several hours, took it off,

he was absolutely fine.

It was like water off of duck's back with Jamie.

[eerie howling noises]

We looked at a lot of different color references

for Vecna's skin tones, for his vines.

We were given beautiful concept art from Michael Mayer.

That was the perfect springboard for us.

And the interesting thing is it's great having

two-dimensional or 3D art,

but when you have to translate that

into physical prosthetic appliances,

we have to use different paints, different bases.

We always look at real life references

for different skin tones.

So we looked at a lot of different sea life.

We looked at a lot of bruising on people

who'd had severe knocks to the skin,

lots of blues and greens and purples.

Because we had this overwhelming amount of reference

of different colors and what have you,

we had to really hone it in to only a few colors.

We actually had a makeup pallet designed by a company

called Premier Product which had 10 different colors

that we were able to use as a base each day as well.

We'd only have one makeup pallet

and we had 10 different colors.

So those are the colors that we use

for the entire Vecna paint scheme in the end.

[eerie screeching noises]

Did I survive?

So for Victor Creel, his history was many years ago,

he had taken a razor blade and gouged through his eyes.

The Duffers wanted quite an extreme makeup.

We had quite severe scarring going down the face

but they also wanted a remnant of maybe a burst

but a scarred eyeball as well on his right hand side.

So the difficult thing we're doing in makeup of this nature

is obviously you're covering an actor's eyes.

And the first thing we would normally do

is once we have a cast of the actor

is we would dome the eyes in front of the eyes.

They'd almost look like half golf balls

in front of the actor's eyes.

And then we would make a former of the face with those,

sculpt the makeup over the top.

So when you have an appliance in the day

and you stick it to the actor's face,

there's actually a cavity inside.

So Robert was able to open his eyes

and look around inside the makeup.

We were incredibly lucky with this character

because we had Robert Englund who's an absolute seasoned pro

with prosthetics.

He's probably worn more prosthetics

than any actor going, I think.

For us, this was like a dream come true.

I was a huge fan of Fangoria magazine

and this was when I was starting to get into makeup effects.

And I love creatures.

And in my bedroom at home at my mum's,

I had my whole wall above my bedroom

was a shrine

to Freddy Kruger and I just had all these posters.

So to actually get to work with Robert Englund,

not only did we get to work on Stranger Things,

but to work with Robert Englund,

it's been like a dream come true.

And he couldn't have been nicer.

This was the fun thing we're doing a makeup on Robert,

he knew all the materials, he knew all the adhesives.

We would be sticking a piece down

and we'd be getting towards an edge and he he'd be like,

I think you should be using some Pros-Aide adhesive

there on the edge.

We're like,

Yeah, we're literally just getting the Pros-Aide.

And he knew every little trick that we were doing.

He's so experienced with having so many makeup stuck on him.

It couldn't have gone any smoother with him,

we were very lucky.

So this is the sculpture of Victor Creel's appliance

which you can see the difference in tone where the appliance

finishes just prior to Robert's hairline,

goes around his temples and down around onto the face.

And even though we're basically only scarring

through his eyes, we make the appliance a little bit larger

and we cheat the nose forward as well.

It comes over at the tip of his nose here.

We cheat the cheek bones, we cheat everything forward

because we've had to dome Robert's eyes out underneath.

So if we were literally just going to cover his eyes

and put scars through them,

it would look really, really bizarre.

So it's actually turned out

being quite an extensive appliance

and Robert's got this trademark great facial hair as well.

He's got this really beautiful beard.

So we had to make sure that we finished the appliance

shy of his beard line as well.

It was quite a big appliance to go on the face

but it was all completely pre-artworked,

we'd hair punch some eyebrows into the piece.

Some eyelashes which kind of curled up

a little bit the wrong way as well.

And we put some kind of gloss materials

onto the eyes themselves so it gave us

this kind of horrible mucusy feel to the eyelids.

Once it was glued onto the skin on the day,

we would just blend into the skin with an airbrush again

and spattering various colors onto Robert's skin.

About a two hour process, I think on the day.

I think approaching a character like Victor Creel

is probably a lot more grounded and in a way easier for us

because we can look at a lot of real scarring reference

as well.

As prosthetic artists,

we look at some quite graphic material.

We look at a lot of facial scarring, lots of trauma,

lots of different victims who've got terrible scarring

which sometimes we do very extensive burn makeup.

So for somebody like Victor Creel's makeup,

we did look at facial scarring going through eyes.

So we knew he was human, but we had to make the appliance

look very realistic and he had to look very grounded

as well.

It is a very different approach

because obviously Vecna is a fantastical creature.

It's supernatural, it's part of the upside down.

So we are using lots of reference of fantasy,

references from wildlife, all kinds of different references.

They are two very different approaches.

I'm just a huge fan of effects, whether it's practical

or digital.

I think still to this day, the work by Rick

on American Warewolf is still so significant

and is still the standard that we all aim to be as good as.

There's also like Rob Bottin's work

on John Carpenter's 'The Thing'.

Which is all practical effects as well at the time.

Huge fan of these kind of early eighties movies

which, even by today's standards,

still haven't quite been beaten.

[Vecna grunting] [woman moaning]